Posts Tagged ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’

hall-of-fame

It is time once again for the Baseball Hall of Fame election process to take over baseball’s airwaves. And while the process over determining inductees has turned away simply from on-field evaluations to a mixture between old-fashioned baseball card stats and an assimilation of a morality based war on “baseball crimes”, the voting game has never been more convoluted.

For the past four years I have tackled the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot on behalf of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s annual counsel-wide vote. While it remains an enjoyable look back at baseball’s past—and increasingly one that I have a vivid memory of—it has never been more difficult to sort through, due to both an increasing pool of talent and having to regularly sort out my stance on each player’s past.

But all things considered, it is still the most intricate and important effort that anyone who considers themselves a purveyor of the game’s story and how it is told should take a crack at. Who should stand among the MLB’s immortals based on their own take on what exactly makes a Hall of Famer from the available options in a given year.

And with that said, here is my submission from among the available players this year—as well as the completely transparent rationale for each. Prior year’s ballots can be searched for historical explanations on those not expanded upon, as well as direct questions can be sent to either WhitenerCSP@gmail.com or @CheapSeatFan on Twitter.

 

The 2015 Ballot

Returning Ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell.

First Timers: Rich Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Carlos Delgado, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Nomar Garciaparra, Brian Giles, Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Cliff Floyd, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Troy Percival, Jason Schmidt, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz

 

Starting the Process of Elimination

The Immediate Cuts: Of the first year class as always, there is the golf clap group. The guys that get the ballot recognition for a variety of reasons, which can range from lengthy, solid and steady careers, to others that had a major runs during their career, to even former Most Valuable Players and Cy Young winners.

There is a mixture of all of these elements among this year’s first year candidates, but this is always the easiest portion to weed apart. So at this point the cuts are: Aurilia, Boone, Clark, Dye, Erstad, Garciaparra (all-time “What If Team” member), Giles, Gordon, Guardado, Floyd, Percival and Schmidt.

This makes the first year survivors out to be: Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz

Returning Nominees Previously Passed On: There also are players that I have evaluated previously and still feel do not feel compelled to vote on any stronger from years past. The candidates that fall under this purview are: Mattingly, Kent, Martinez, Sosa and Trammell.

Previously Voted In: There players that remain on the ballot that I have previously voted for as well, therefore I will continue to move them along to the final cuts fall in here. Further evaluation of their standing I will go into further depth on why or why not they did not make my 2015 ballot later. They are: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Mussina, Piazza, Schilling and Smith

 

Further Evaluation

This is usually where the chopping block comes for truly tough calls for first-timers and the rare carryovers from previous years that were among the annual toughest to leave off of the ballot annually group. For all intents and purposes, this is the purgatory between true borderline Hall of Famers and no-brainer Hall of Very Good-ers. The case for each member in this particular purgatory this year goes like this….

Carlos Delgado: While the highlight of his career was without a doubt his 2003 season where his 145 RBI and 42 home runs made him the runner-up for MVP honors, he was without a doubt one of the steadiest hitters of an offense-heavy era. He topped 30 home runs for 10 consecutive years from 1997 to 2006, and didn’t fall below 24 long balls for 13 straight years. He topped 40 homers in three separate years and drove in over 1,500 runs. He is the all-time leader for Puerto Ricans in HRs and RBI.

The knock against him is the obvious skepticism of the era he played in, as well as the Blue Jay teams he made his major bones with never did much in the standings. He never recovered from a hip injury after the 2008 season and his career ended suddenly in 2009. He finished his career short of the “magic number” of 500 home runs and was only a two-time All-Star during a competitive era of first base play.

Fred McGriff: The main power conduit for the Atlanta Braves, the case for McGriff is perhaps one whose perception is most damaged by the strike of 1994. While he was a five-time All-Star, twice led the National League in home runs as a member of the San Diego Padres and ultimately hit 493 homers in his career, he ended up seven short of joining the iconic “500 home run club”.

This is a mark that he would have most certainly met in ’94 when he lost the final seven weeks of the season. Combined with the fact he hit 10 more long balls in postseason play and carried a .303 career October batting average, there is certainly a case that McGriff’s body of work deserves stronger consideration.

Gary Sheffield: A divisive figure for his unapologetic attitude and strong social opinions, as well as being named on the Mitchell Report as being associated with steroids, Sheffield’s strong numbers have been dulled down over time. But Sheffield finished with 509 home runs, was the 1992 National League Batting Champion and drove in 1,676 runs. From 1995 to 2003, he hit under .300 only once and topped 30 home runs five times during the stretch as well.

A nine-time All-Star and central part of the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins, Sheffield was an excellent producer at all eight of his stops along his 22-year career.

Tim Raines: “Rock” possesses the strongest case of the veteran members of the ballot, as he is on his eighth year on the ballot. He has a unique case that makes him more and more worthy of repeated looks back at his accomplishments. He was the premier non-Rickey Henderson leadoff hitter of the 1980’s, which makes his accomplishments stand in a considerable shadow, albeit the shadow of the greatest to ever play the part, which means something.

While I am not a fan of the long-time remnants on the ballot, Raines is a guy that is worth keeping around in case the right year of openings shows itself. He is fourth all-time in stolen bases with 808 (including five straight years of better than 70 swipes), had over 2,600 hits and made seven consecutive All-Star teams from 1981-87. Add in his status as 1986 batting champ (.334) and status as the greatest Montreal Expo of all-time, and there is much credence to his status as player with the greatest lost legacy of any on the ballot.

With all things considered here, I believe that McGriff, Sheffield and Raines each make a compelling enough case to move to be considered among the final class for this year. Delgado was steady and often stunningly impactful, but not at the level that truly left an indelible mark on the history of the game, or was consistently excellent long enough to craft a unique place in the game’s history. Those are the elements that make a Hall of Famer for me, and he falls just short.

 

The True Class

After all of the deliberation has concluded, my actual final pool to choose from is this 14 man class: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, McGriff, McGwire, Martinez, Mussina, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Smith and Smoltz

This is the toughest line to draw, and often sees many the return to this point over and over again. But hairs must be split and cream must find its way to the top.

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Casting The Ballot

Some make the Hall without deliberation, others have to take the marathon route; it’s the way of the world. So with all of this process and prestige firmly set, here is who I am supporting this year and why:

Craig Biggio—Somehow it has taken three years to sort this out, but it finally feels like it is inevitable the National League’s top post-Sandberg second baseman gets his due this year. The numbers are certainly there, as is the respectable approach to the game and the tenure. He is a member of the 3,000 hit club, which used to be a VIP line to Cooperstown, but perhaps it is the fact that his numbers never jumped off the page in any one area that holds him back. But he is the only member of the 3,000 hit/250 home run/1,000 RBI/600 double/400 stolen base club, which further speaks to the versatility that he perfected.

Barry Bonds—As long as he’s alive, not in the Hall and I am still weighing in on the situation, he has a place on my list etched in stone. 762 home runs, 1996 RBI, 2227 runs and 2935 hits didn’t all happen under the now gluttonous microscope of conviction for him. But the ultimate irony is that the same mob that is now dead set on blocking his entry to Cooperstown is the same pack bestowing him the seven Most Valuable Player nods he set yet another record with. Funny times.

Roger Clemens—Clemens was a seven-time Cy Young winner and Most Valuable Player. He won 354 games and ran up 4,672 strikeouts over the course of running up that treasure trove of (voted upon) accolades. He is the most decorated pitcher of his time and by many accounts the best as well. He was great for four different clubs and won a Cy Young at three stops. Performance outweighs moral platforms for me, and Clemens was already an all-time great by the time anybody raised their first eyebrow in suspicion. I’m not big on revisionist history, so I will refrain from engaging in it here as well.

Randy Johnson—Standing in at immense 6’10” and whipping down with an explosive motion which unleashed triple digit speed fastballs and knee-buckling sliders with the same ease, “The Big Unit” was the most intimidating and overwhelming pitcher in history. There will be no delay on Johnson reaching Cooperstown, and he should receive the highest vote total of anyone on the ballot this year.

He dominated both leagues with the same effectiveness, was a 10-time All-Star, 9-time All-Star, 4-time ERA champion and author of a no-hitter in 1990 and a perfect game 14 years later. His run with the Diamondbacks from 1999 through 2002 was one of the most dominant stretches of pitching in history, going 81-27 with a 2.48 ERA and 1417 strikeouts—an average year of a 20-7 record and 354 strikeouts in 258 innings. During that stretch he won a World Series, four consecutive Cy Young honors, three ERA titles and the pitching Triple Crown in 2002.

Pedro Martinez—Often a pitcher’s career is graded based on volume of statistics. 300 wins or vast strikeout titles are the most common marks to assure consideration as a pitching immortal. However, Pedro’s body of work was far more brilliant than it was vast (219 career wins), but he was easily one of the most overwhelmingly complete pitchers of all-time. At his best, everything he threw was an out pitch: whether it was his time stopping change up, knee buckling curveball or his plethora of fastball variety. He could overpower or confound with equal ease.

In his final season as an Expo, he lead the National League with a 1.90 ERA and 13 complete games and won his first Cy Young before departing for the American League where he was even more dominant. The following season he headed to Boston, where over the next seven seasons he would win 76% of his starts and would win take the American League ERA title four times, win 16 or more games in six of his seven years. His 1999 and 2000 seasons were perhaps the two greatest consecutive years ever, and he easily won the AL Cy Young in each year. Over 58 starts, he totaled a 41-10 record on a 1.90 ERA over 430 innings. During the run he ran up an incredible 597 strikeouts against only 69 walks. His .760 win percentage as a Red Sox is the highest for a player with one franchise in MLB history.

Mike Mussina—He is the last guy I added to the list for the second year in a row, because quite frankly, there is nothing flashy about Moose and his greatness is built on being steady. There are no Cy Young nods, only one time did he lead his league wins and only once did he meet the 20-win mark. But there is a certain remarkable point to being stunningly above average; a point where it becomes great. Mussina won at least 10 games for 17 straight years, a mark only four others (all HOFers) have met. In 11 of those years, he won at least 15 contests. He was a lowkey workhorse (11 years of 200 innings) and a brilliant fielder (six Gold Gloves). Not the flashiest package, but there’s plenty of content to it.

Mike Piazza— It is odd that it continues to take Piazza—the all-time leader in home runs amongst catchers—so long to garner respect to get into the Hall. There has been an odd tie to him to the substance abusers of his era that has plagued his HOF considerations since he came up on the ballot, despite never being specifically tied to any allegations as a player. His support has inched forward on the ballot slightly each year and while he may still be a few years away, he’ll make it—but it is still two years (and counting) too late.

Tim Raines—The reasons why have already been broken out, but Rock finally makes the breakthrough on my ballot out of a mixture of matured appreciation as well as the right year to breakthrough for the vote. While I still do not think he is an absolute no brainer, he is a solid right place, right time candidate and is worthy of the admission.

Curt Schilling—A study in the importance on understanding the context of performance in a career, Schilling turned a varied yet undeniably pivotal role in the game. He was one of the great postseason pitchers of all-time, going 11-2 for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox and won two World Series along the way. In addition his career showed progressive excellence along the way: in Philadelphia he established himself as a frontline starter, in Arizona he affirmed himself as one of the game’s top arms and began his postseason legend and finally in Boston he brought it all together and finalized the case for being one of the great all-around, all-season pitchers ever.

John Smoltz—Perhaps the greatest dual purpose arm of all-time, Smoltz went from great starter to dominant closer and back to standing among the game’s best starters. He is one of two pitchers to ever have both a 20-win and 50 save season on his resume. Smoltz stands alone as the only pitcher to have won at least 200 games and saved 150. He twice led the National League in wins and won the league’s 1996 Cy Young Award when he won 24 games for the Braves. After missing the 2000 season with an injury he returned as Atlanta’s closer and set the NL single-season saves record with 55 in 2002.

A portion of the Braves’ famed pitching trio with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz was the most distinguished postseason performer of the group. His 1991 postseason exploits were stuff of legend and launched a career where he won 15 October contests—the second highest total of all-time—along with carrying a 2.67 ERA in 209 postseason innings.

 

Final Cuts

There are four candidates that exceed the 10-man limit of the ballot that remain after ciphering through the accolades of each player. And while 10 players are not required for a ballot to be considered complete, once again there are just too many worthy candidates for me to not turn in a class that is at capacity in my person opinion.

Jeff Bagwell—Bagwell was certainly one of the premier run producers of his time and the 1994 NL MVP, but his career was also one that was hurt by being both impacted and abbreviated by injury. This is not to say that he does not garner consideration—449 homers, 488 doubles, 1529 RBI and a .297 career average justify that—he is simply a victim of the numbers game this year for me.

Mark McGwire—The shadow of the PEDs cloud’s McGwire’s candidacy as well. While he does fall into my exempt list as well due to the fact that he constantly hit the ball over the fence at every level of baseball he played at (six seasons of 40 or more homers, including three north of 50) it’s hard to say he is more qualified for the Hall currently over the other candidates that did it on the up and up.

Lee Smith—Each year that passes makes it tougher for Big Lee to make it on, especially with Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera looming. He was the all-time saves leader from 1993 to 2006 when Hoffman passed his record of 478 and revolutionized the job of being a closer, making it the ultimate specialist role in the game.

Gary Sheffield—In many ways, Sheffield is sort of the Jim Rice or Tim Raines of his era: an indisputably effective and consistent hitter who’s total body of work is shockingly good when looked back at on paper. However in context of what he did in regards to impact, he never was considered to be “The Man” at any point and also has the cloud of suspicion over him as well regarding PED usage. However, Sheffield was the final cut that made and it was very hard to draw a line between him and Mussina for the 10th name to make it on. I am more than sure that he will make my ballot in upcoming years.

 

Look for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s annual poll on Hall Of Fame inductees to release soon and to get more of my take on the outcome of the BBWAA vote and who is headed to Cooperstown both here and on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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jimmy-rollins-dive

Last summer, I started an ongoing project to look at the Hall of Fame prospects of many of the contemporary stars of the game. This year we are picking that series back up again with a few more current MLBers that have some impressive long-term prospects—potentially.

To get this summer’s edition going the spotlight first will land on longtime Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. It has been a seesaw season for Rollins so far, who has run the gamut with the Phillies over his career in general, but perhaps no year has been as severe as this one. From a brief controversy over his playing time future with the team with manager Ryne Sandberg in Spring Training, all the way to surpassing the franchise’s crown jewel in Mike Schmidt atop the Phillies’ all-time hits list last month, Rollins has had quite the summer even just at the halfway point.

But now as the summer moves on (and potentially the end of his run in Philly as well) it is as good of a time as any to take a look at the surprisingly complete career of Rollins and if it has been enough to build a bridge into Cooperstown potentially for him not too far down the road.

 

The Numbers (as of July 1, 2014)

15 Seasons (age 35): .268 average, 207 home runs, 863 RBI, 2250 hits, 1284 runs scored, 470 doubles, 439 stolen bases, .327 on-base percentage, .434 slugging percentage

1. The Case For: In taking a stand for Rollins career, it is important to look at how well he has displayed every skill that is asked of a shortstop, as well as some that are borderline exceptional for the position. What jumps off the page first is his outstanding athleticism at his peak. He was one of the most dangerous speed elements in the game from his debut into well into his mid-career prime. From 2001-09, he stole at least 20 bases a season, with four seasons of 40 or better, including leading the National League with 46 as rookie and a career-best 47 in 2008. His 438 career stolen bases are the 11th best total ever for a shortstop.

This was also a tool he put to constant use as an offensive presence as well, as he led the NL in triples four times including an absurd 20 in 2007. Of shortstops whose careers began after 1950, his 109 triples is the third best total overall after Robin Yount and Jose Reyes. His athletic skills also were put to great use in the field as well. Able to cover much ground and possessing a strong throwing arm, he was a winner of three (legit) Gold Glove Awards from 2007-09 as well.

Yet what truly began to set him apart from the pack was a deceptive amount of power that he began to develop about halfway through his career. As his swing and knowledge of the game matured, he began to become a threat to go deep as well and four times in his career he has topped 20 home runs in season. Overall, he has 10 seasons of double digit home run totals, including 30 in 2007. His 207 career homers are the 9th best total for a shortstop all-time. Although he has never had a season hitting .300, he did amass a 36 game hitting streak at the end of 2005 year.

2007 is a reoccurring theme in referencing Rollins, and for good reason. It was the year that he put on one of the finest all-around displays of talent in the history of the game in route to winning the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player award. It was a year that he became the first player in MLB history to turn in a 200 hit season, with 20 triples, 30 home runs and 30 steals in one year. In addition, he became the seventh player to ever have 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 home runs in one season, joining among others Hall of Famers Jim Bottomley (1928), George Brett (1979) and Willie Mays (1957).

2. The Case Against: While he has been steadily good, injuries began to take away from some of the range that he had early in his career in the field around 2009 and also decreased the steadiness of his offensive output as well. After 2007, he only hit over .260 once, while hitting .250 or lower three times. Despite hitting around the top of the lineup for most of his career (leadoff in 1,457 games, second in 303 and third 123 times) he has never been much of an on-base threat, owning a single-season best of .348 in 2004. In his decline years since 2009, he has only once reached base more than 33% of the time despite having over 600 plate appearances in four of his five full seasons over that run.

While All-Star Games appearances can be considered trivial, in many cases it is a fair barometer of a player’s impact in their era. And Rollins has made only three All-Star appearances in his 15 year career, which is a curiously low number for a player at position that is usually easy for elite talents to lock down a spot in (conversely, Ozzie Smith made 12 consecutive ASG appearances and Barry Larkin had two stretches of at least three appearances, only separated by one absent season). Rollins has not reached the All-Star Game since 2005, a stretch of nine seasons that is continuing.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

3. Similar Players (through age 35)

– Edgar Renteria (.286 average, 140 home runs, 923 RBI, 2327 hits, 294 stolen bases)

– Alan Trammell (.288 average, 174 home runs, 936 RBI, 2182 hits, 224 stolen bases)

– Craig Biggio (.291 average, 180 home runs, 811 RBI, 2149 hits, 365 stolen bases)

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what it is going to take): The case for Rollins is perplexing, because in many regards he is the class of NL shortstops for his era. While Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki all have had great runs, Rollins has had the longest sustained presence since Larkin retired. Yet the perplexing situation is just how between the lines where he currently stands is at.

Look at the players that he is most like just above. Renteria was a multiple time All-Star and champion, but not a Hall of Fame caliber player, although he did have a ‘Rich Man’s Retirement’, with plenty of more baseball he could have played. Moving along to Trammell, who he perhaps best mirrors from an impact standpoint (one-time World Series winner, same amount of Gold Gloves, 15+ year everyday presence with lower than expected All-Star total) and the brink of immortality for Rollins really is made clear. Trammell has lived on the fringe of the Hall of Fame ballot for 14 years now and is not gaining any traction to get before he is removed from it.

The final comparison is a man that is destined for the Hall of Fame in Biggio, who offers similar skill set as Rollins, but differs in the fact that he stayed more consistent for longer and therefore hit a unique spread of accomplishments that will gain him membership to Cooperstown potentially as soon as this year.

Despite all of this, there the element of “it just doesn’t feel like” he has done it all. Perhaps it is because his very best was done in a short span of years and otherwise he has just been very steady at being steady. Meaning he has done certain thing very well, but few of them have been the type of happenings that are highlight worthy. You have to look back to see that he has a Silver Slugger and as many Gold Gloves as he does. Seeing the brilliance of that 2007 season takes some prompting as well, just like the hitting streak of ’05 and the brash confidence that he guided the Phillies back to prominence in the mid-2000’s with as well.

The complex of where Rollins is at is that he has made a definite impact, but is in a purgatory of relevancy. He has to keep pushing and producing regularly to reach out of the “great in his era” range of the Renteria’s and to find the gap between Trammell and Biggio that would reach him to Cooperstown. He has all of the intangible accomplishments that can be asked for: a World Series Champion, MVP, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and All-Star all under wraps. But to really make a more than compelling case for himself, he will need to hit a few milestone stat hurdles as well.

Mainly, he has to keep running up the hit total. With another 300 hits he would top 2,500; an impressive total for a shortstop of any era. That would give him more than Ozzie, Larkin and Trammell, which are important to pass as two are established Hall of Famers and standard bearers for the decades that preceded him and puts him over the proverbial eligibility hump that Trammell has become. One thing that he can still do is run well and run smart, and when Rollins tops 500 stolen bases he’ll have a really plus, round number to lean on as well.

A career of 200 home runs, 500 steals, 2500 hits and 1300 runs scored is awfully impressive. And what’s more, if Rollins is to meet this package of feats, he would be the only shortstop to ever do so. Only the greats Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter come close to that type of display, and when a player is close to that class, they are doing something right. And Rollins has done all lot right for a long time.

However, he will need to finish out his career strong to meet these marks and there is work to be done still. If he can do so, I think Rollins has a more than suitable case to make it in. But if he does not, he could be lost in the haze of the Hall of Very Good, and perhaps rightfully so.

So when it’s all said and done, when the question is asked: is Jimmy Rollins In, Out or In-Between the Hall of Fame, as it stands today, he is IN-BETWEEN, but closer to the rights to the keys to the Hall than it may be believed.

 

For more on the season as it unfolds, follow my columns at The Sports Fan Journal, I-70 Baseball and tune into ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’ as well. For up to the moment words, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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Today is the day that newest class for the Baseball Hall of Fame will be revealed. It is a class that had the potential—if all things were created equal—to be greatest induction class of all-time. There are a total of 15 Most Valuable Player, 14 Cy_Young and 5 World Series MVP Awards up for the vote this year, an outstandingly high level of achievement.

However, we all know that it is not an equal playing field, even for the owners of these achievements. Because the game has morphed into a different type of machine than it was when the doors in Cooperstown first open in June of 1939, a time that was much different than today. And while it is both cliché and antiquated to reach for the value of baseball in generations that have long passed, it is also an exercise in tireless purpose. Because more than any other game, history has more relevance in baseball than any other sport and it still shapes the present and the future of the game acutely. It defines the highs and lows equally, a phenomenon that is still actively going on to this day.

However, on a day where debate will take an equal billing with celebration, it seems to be good time for context back to the beginning of the Hall of Fame, the first days where the task of sorting out a Hall of Famer was a truly arduous task, albeit one devoid of much of the reserve that has made the decision now so confounding.

When the doors to Cooperstown opened up in 1939, the Hall of Fame as an entity had been established already for three years, but there was no physical location for it to be observed. But once this was established, the most comprehensive and star-studded induction ceremony ever took place. Ironically, the early rules were as unintentionally complicated as the current ones (which are somewhat similar) have been made to be. The main guideline was for a player to get 75% of the vote, which has endured. Yet before there was some clarity brought to the request of voting for an inductee, it was spread all around the ballot and even extended to some active players and retirees that had not yet been done for the now-requisite five years.

Yet when it was sorted, out the results of it were fantastic, and here are the initial four classes that built the Hall of Fame, in retrospect, both then and enduring. What’s to come nobody knows, but here’s where it all started.

1936—The First Class

Ty Cobb—Detroit Tigers: The greatest player of the dead-ball era, Cobb’s reputation as dubious asset to mankind did not damage the impact he had as a ballplayer. Because at the time of his induction to the Hall, he was the most accomplished athlete in professional sports history, and an owner of 90 varied records in the game.  Among these are a .366 career batting average, 4,191 hits, 12 batting titles and 54 steals of home plate. He received the highest vote total of any original inductee, with a 98.2% return.

Walter Johnson—Washington Senators: With 110 shutouts, 420 wins, eleven seasons of a sub-2.00 ERA and being the inaugural member of the 3,000 strikeout club, the Big Train was (and still is) the greatest pitcher of all-time. He was the best pitcher on losing teams in history as well, with the annually bad Washington club likely coming in his way of pushing for the all-time wins title as well. Johnson was elected in on 83% of the ballot.

Christy Mathewson—New York Giants: The first crossover superstar in baseball history, Matty was also one of the first control artists from the mound. Armed with his devastating screwball, he won 363 games, including four seasons of 30 wins or better. One of the most respected players of his time, whose reputation as a gentleman was directly contrasted by his fierce postseason presence on the mound. In the 1905 World Series he had potentially the greatest performance ever in the Fall Classic. He started three games and won all three—with a shutout in each appearance. He was voted in with 90.7% of the vote.

Babe Ruth—New York Yankees: At the time, the Babe was the most famous player alive, and still remains among the most revered figures in American history, with his name alone being used as a measuring stick for greatness in a field. This is due to the fact that he single-handedly transformed the way the game was played. He hit 714 career home runs, and his style of play has based every evolution that the game has taken over the past 90+ years. He led the American League in home runs 12 times,  and still carries the highest slugging percentage of all-time. He was voted in on 95.1% of the vote.

Honus Wagner—Pittsburgh Pirates: The first five-tool player, The Flying Dutchman is still the safe bet for greatest shortstop ever, as he has repeatedly been elected over the last century. Wagner topped 3,400 hits, 600 doubles, 200 triples and 100 home runs, then a remarkable slate of accomplishments. The complimented this with a powerful arm in the field. The eight-time batting champ was elected on 95.1% of the vote, the same number as Ruth and second highest total overall.

1937—The Second Class

Nap Lajoie—Cleveland Naps: Such a great player that they felt the now-Indians had to carry not only him at second base, but his name for the entire team. It is understandable, as the five-time batting champ and two-time RBI champion (a ridiculous notion for a second baseman of the times) was a transformative player. He hit over .350 ten separate times, with five batting titles, including a high of .426 in 1901. He was elected on 83.6% of the ballots.

Tris Speaker—Boston Red Sox: One of the great defensive outfielders ever, Speaker holds two prominent records to this day. At the plate, he hit 792 doubles, while in the field he has an outstanding 449 assists—from centerfield. His 3,514 hits remain the fifth highest total ever, and he was voted in on 82.1% of ballots.

Cy Young—Cleveland Spiders/Boston Red Sox: The greatest oversight from the first class was the then, now and forever all-time wins king. The game’s top pitching award was named for Young in honor of his 511 win career, which featured 15 years over 20 victories. To this day, he holds the high water mark in eight separate pitching categories, and was voted in on 76.1% of ballots.

1938—The Third Class

Grover Cleveland Alexander—Philadelphia A’s/Chicago Cubs: As the greats of the early years continued to be worked in, the fourth of the great turn of the century hurlers was called in. Old Pete was a warhorse on the mound, a winner of 373 games (third most ever) and an artist of the shutout. From 1915-1917, he won 30 games each season with an ERA below 2.00 and only once did not reach at least 10 shutouts. He was elected on 80.92% of the ballot.

1939—The Fourth Class/The Hall Opens

Lou Gehrig—New York Yankees: By the time that Gehrig was inducted, the disease which premature ended his career and life, and continues to carry his namesake, was close to claiming his life. However what it did not dim was the accomplishments of a man that is still considered to be the standard for all first basemen. The RBI machine drove in 1,995 runs (included seven seasons of 150 or better) and earned his Iron Horse moniker by playing in over 2,130 games. Gehrig was elected by acclamation and had the standard five year waiting period waved due to the severity of his illness, making him the youngest inductee to Cooperstown for decades.

George Sisler—St. Louis Browns: Before the Cardinals ruled the city, Sisler was the preeminent part of St. Louis baseball. The first baseman was hits machine set the all-time single season hits record with 257, which stood for over 80 years and hit .400 twice. He was elected on 85.8% of the ballot.

 

For more on today’s Hall of Fame news to come in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Hall_

One of the great joys of my freelance writing year is the affiliation with the Baseball Bloggers Alliance that brings an organized Hall of Fame ballot and vote among the various writers in the group. It brings together the same type of varied approach to the analysis of Hall of Fame worthy ballplayers, yet from the perspective of varied mix of observers, media movers and fans. There’s a clear voice for that as well, and often it shows a light that’s gotten dimmed some in recent years.

For myself, my approach to my ballot is to honor the absolute best of the era, without being too much of an elitest. Everybody is not Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth, players who defined not only their eras of baseball, but sports and cultural history as well. To respect the context of the game is see the true greatness in it. There are the absolutes, but there are also those that were so great for long enough at their peak that they proved to be an undeniable guiding force in an era of the game. That is a Hall of Famer to me; a player that was clearly greater than his contemporaries and meets the standard set before him at both his position and in the context of the game overall.

What will actually happen, who knows. I’m 100% sure that all of these men will not reach the Hall of Fame this year, or even the next, or even after that. There is little to no chance that there will be a second straight shutout, but its guaranteed that somebody will be grossly overlooked as well. The BBWA ballots that have been made public already have shown that, and the BBBA vote also showed a similar sentiment. But what is for certain is that I will continue to champion for the performers and the ones that defined and shaped the game in one capacity or another for a stretch of their career. All of these men fit that description, and all have my confidence as being worth torch bearers of baseball’s greatest cumulative honor.

And with that, I give you my selections of the 2014 Hall of Fame class….

 

Craig Biggio: Biggio cut a unique swath through the game, and at his best, he was the best second baseman in the National League, making seven of eight All-Star Games from 1991-1998. He excelled at catcher, second base and center field, making him one of the most diverse threats in the game saw across his career. This varied impact is best shown in his unique split as being the only player ever have 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 250 home runs, 1,000 RBI and 400 stolen bases. He has the most leadoff home runs in NL history and is (more dubiously) that all-time leader in being hit by pitches. Basically, he did more enough of everything better than most that he deserves the call.

Barry Bonds: It’s simple—he’s the best player of his era, and arguably all-time. The debate can be what it is, but ultimately the truth for Bonds in my book is that didn’t inject himself into the Hall of Fame; he was already there. I’ve looked at the truth of both ends of Bonds numbers previously, and I stand by th0se facts until the end. Him and Clemens get packaged together in the court of opinion regarding their worthiness, but that is not exactly fair either, because Bonds body of work both under and without the influence of PEDs was far superior than anybody else’s in the game.

Roger ClemensClemens case is a bit cloudier, as his career was in a tailspin before he hit Toronto in 1997 and reinvigorated his career at the age of 34, subsequently having another great run of his career for the next eight years. But to credit his body of work to that stretch is using blinders, because what he did in Boston still remains him at his best. As a Red Sox, he went 192-111, with 2,590 strikeouts, won three Cy Young Awards and one MVP. Clemens was the best and most dominant pitcher of the 1980’s and is worthy on those merits alone.

Tom GlavineHe was a steady assassin that didn’t make much noise along the way, and will always be grouped together and compared in conjunction to his rotation mates. But the truth of the matter for Glavine is that he was on the way to being who is now before the Braves even took off. After losing 17 games in his first full season, he went on a run of 14 consecutive years of double-digit wins. This stretch included five seasons of at least 20 victories, with three of those years coming consecutively. He took home two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top 3 five other times, and was the World Series MVP in the Braves lone World Championship season, going 2-0 in the 1995 World Series, and carrying a 1.60 ERA overall in that postseason.

He easily sits among the top handful of left-handers all-time, only inarguably surpassed by Koufax, Johnson, Grove, Carlton and Spahn. And for a guy that spent much of his career steadily being the second best guy on his own staff, it is time for him to get first dibs for a change.

Greg Maddux: My ballot might as well had shown up with his name checked already. With respects to Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera, Maddux was far and away the greatest pitcher of not only his generation, but probably at least one to two before it as well. The definition of both consistency and artistry on the mound, he commanded both the strike zone and game flow with an unequalled ease.

In an era where power ruled both on the mound and off the mound, he was a stark contrast to the times that he owned none the less. Velocity was not needed for his approach to the mound, as his placement of simply a two-seam fastball and change-up were so precise, it created self-doubt in batters before he even released the ball. If that wasn’t enough, he mixed in variations of sliders, cutters and splitters along the way as well and ultimately became one of the most unlikely members of the 3,000 strikeout club (3,371, 10th all-time). At his peak in the early 90’s, he won four consecutive Cy Young Awards with the Cubs and Braves, amassing an incredible 75-29 record from 1992-1995, with a 1.98 ERA, completed 37 games, struck out 733 batters compared to issuing only 176 walks and allowed on average less than one base runner per inning.

Yet for Maddux, it is volume that speaks the loudest. His 355 wins are the second-most of any player born in the 20th century, and he is the only pitcher in history to win at least 15 games for 17 consecutive seasons. In addition to it all, he is the owner of a record 18 Gold Gloves as well.

As of now, the highest vote percentage in history belongs to Tom Seaver, with 98.84% in 1992. A lot has changed since then in regards to the skepticism regarding candidacy, but if there ever was a perfect storm for a consensus inductee, it’s Mad Dog: a conqueror that appeared to be anything but, that achieved on his own wiles in unquestionably unpolluted manner over and above both the questionable and clean alike.

Mark McGwire: I maintain that my only issue with PED usage is if the player took an obvious jump in production to a level that he had never saw before. Do I deny that McGwire’s performance spiked? Absolutely not. However, this is also a man that was destroying the ball in his early 20’s as well, and likely would have surpassed 500 home runs regardless. He was a winner and a pinnacle part of the game during its reconstruction, and for those reasons alone, he remains worthy in my opinion.

Mike Mussina: The push to question the worthiness of wins in today’s game subsequently also pulls the very worthiness of Mussina’s career into question as well. Because by and far, wins are what pulls him away from the pack of the very good and into the great. And while there are some pitchers who build reputations on high win totals by association, after a while if that keeps up, maybe its time to consider they are the reason over the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. Mussina is the poster child for this scenario, as he never led the American League in wins once, but this was just as his great seasons being overshadowed by the better ones of Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens at the same time. This kept him from the Cy Young victories, but it didn’t keep him from winning at least 10 games for 17 straight years (an AL record), a mark that only Cy Young, Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Don Sutton and Maddux can claim to have done. One thing that all of them have in common (or soon will): a plaque in Cooperstown. So yes, wins still do (and forever shall) matter.

Mike Piazza: The confusion on the greatness of Mike Piazza is one of the strangest phenomena’s around the game right now. There seems to be no consensus on exactly why he’s not a Hall of Famer yet. Some bunch him into the suspected PED user group, while others put it on his lack of defensive prowess. Others even say that his offensive chops are not up to a Hall of Fame par, due to his lack of “magic numbers”. However, in real time while Piazza was active, there was no doubt who was the most dominant force at catcher not only at the time, but ever. And his separation from the pack regarding backstops at the plate has not changed in the slightest. He hit over 30 home runs in nine of 10 years from 1993 to 2002, and hit over .315 in seven seasons. If the point of the Hall is to honor the greatest at what they did all-time, then Piazza is a shoe-in, as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, and by a fair margin.

Curt Schilling: My opinion has changed on Schilling, and do think he is worthy of one of the ten spots on this year’s ballot. In many ways, he was the Felix Hernandez of his era: a dominant pitcher that struggled in the wins categories with some subpar teams in Philadelphia, but then fulfilled the “what if he played for a contender” debate once he actually did. He spent the end of his career solidifying himself as one of the most dominant and successful pitchers of his era. He was precisely dominant, carrying the greatest strikeout-to-walk ratio of all-time (3,111 K’s to 711 walks – a 4.4 to 1 ratio) and compromised one half of arguably the greatest 1-2 punch in history with Randy Johnson for the early 2000’s Diamondbacks.

It was in Arizona that he started his dominant postseason foothold, and in Boston where turned it into the lore that truly separates him from a great pitcher, to a Hall of Famer. His career record in October was 11-2 in 19 starts, where he carried a 2.23 ERA. In the Series, he was 4-1 in 7 starts and won three of the four series he reached (and all that he was a lead hurler in). Schilling is a perfect hybrid case for why regular season performance matters in both does and context, but how an extremely dominant postseason resume can be a deciding factor as well.

Frank Thomas: The Big Hurt was simply the best right-handed hitter of the 1990’s, a decade where he hit .320, over 300 home runs, drove in over 1,000 runs and won back-to-back MVPs (over a mid-prime Ken Griffey, Jr). In the all-time sense, Thomas was a bit of a victim of circumstance, as some of what could have been his mos enduring accomplishments were eclipsed by either fantastic, over-the-top efforts or by things outside of his control. Three times in his career he hit over over .345, yet won only one batting title, and in 1994, the MLB strike ended what was taking off to be a Triple Crown winning season for him (.353/34/101 through 110 games).

Injuries curtailed the middle of his career, and ultimately clipped where is career totals could have landed, but when healthy he was still dominant, finishing in the top 5 of the MVP votes in 2000 and 2006. He is one of seven players to hit .300 for his career and top 500 home runs, and easily stands in the group of the great batsmen in the history of the game.

 

For more on what’s to come and the inevitable debate to come, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Matt+Holliday+Atlanta+Braves+v+St+Louis+Cardinals+qSAqdjUT3Cwl

The next entry in the ongoing series looking at the potential candidacy (or lack thereof) for the Baseball Hall of Fame turns to middle of the country and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday. For the better part of his career, Holliday has been among the most consistent hitters in baseball. From the major boom he made early in his career with the Colorado Rockies, to the role as protector of Albert Pujols, and more recently, lineup axis in St. Louis, Holliday’s comprehensive approach has kept him among his era’s best at the plate.

Yet when assessing his value in the big picture of the game, he’s the classic example of hitter that doesn’t have any eye popping numbers mid-career, but then towards the end has complete body of work that begins to shift the opinion on him some. However, that is a pendulum that can swing both ways: sometimes they continue to build up, yet other times it runs into the ultimate gray area of the “nice, but not quite THAT nice” that so many fantastic hitters have landed at. But Holliday is also playing for consistent contenders and in a solid spotlight as well, which has been known to make the difference in a push over the hump as well.

Let’s have a look at the career of Holliday, where’s it has been and where it could be headed, and if the unique combinations of career levels he’s built already could make him an intriguing candidate somewhere down the line…or not.

The numbers (thru July 12): .310 average, 242 home runs, 919 RBI, 1608 hits, 910 runs, 359 doubles, .385 on-base percentage, .531 slugging percentage

 

The Case For: Holliday has been among the most balanced hitters of the past ten years. In his first decade in the game, he has hit over .300 six times, drove in 100 runs five times and hit over 25 home runs five times as well. Among active players, his .310 career average is the tenth best total, and sixth best among players with ten years served. He is not what would be classified as a power hitter, but he is easily among the best line drive producers of his time, as his seasonal average of 42 doubles indicates. In his 9 full seasons, he has hit over 35 doubles seven times, and led the league with 50 in 2007. Also during that ’07, which truly put him on the map, he led the NL in hits (216), RBI (137), total bases (386) and was the batting champ with a .340 mark. He finished second in the MVP race that season, and was the runner-up in the MVP race.

That season also was his first in the postseason, due to being the catalyst of the Rockies improbable 21 wins in 22 September games and scoring a thrilling (and debated) winning run in the season’s final game against the San Diego Padres to win the NL West on the season’s final day. He has continued his winning ways in St. Louis, where he made the postseason in three of his four seasons, and won a World Series in 2011. Also in St. Louis, he has successful shook off the “Coors Field stigma”, with an average season of .302 avg/25 home runs/95 RBI/165 hits as a Cardinal over roughly four years, compared to a only slightly better .319/25 HR/96 RBI/170 hits per year over five seasons.

The Case Against: For as many benefits as there has been to Holliday’s career, there are a few easy calls against it as well. Even at his very best, he’s been a bit of a complimentary player. He’s been at his best when in an ensemble role: a la not the primary focus. He’s never really carried a team on his own for long; although he’s definitely been a difference maker in all of his stops, save for the brief one in Oakland.

There’s also the Coors factor. His best statistical years were when he was a member of the Rockies, and while he has been an All-Star caliber player elsewhere, perception plays as reality, and the fact that the only time he led his league in anything was in Colorado could hurt him.

Another issue is his age. He’s 33 years old in his tenth year, and while he isn’t showing much downturn, time is not on his side to get in range of many magical numbers that stand out on a HOF resume. His best bet would be stay as close to being a .300 lifetime hitter as he can, because it’s his biggest calling card currently. A steady stream of .300/25/100 seasons would be a strong indicator, because he’ll never be seen as the guiding force in such a deep St. Louis team that sets him from the pack.

There is also the fact that he has struggled in the postseason in his career, hitting only .261 across 10 career postseason series, including a .158 mark in the 2011 World Series. He also had a crucial dropped pop fly that played a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ elimination at the hands of the Dodgers in the 2009 NL Division Series.

Similar Players (thru age 32)

Larry Walker: .312 avg, 262 HR, 855 RBI, 1431 hits, 886 runs, 314 doubles, .389 on-base percentage

Wally Berger: .303 avg, 227 HR, 849 RBI, 1452 hits, 770 runs, 282 doubles, .360 on-base percentage

Magglio Ordonez: .305 avg, 219 HR, 853 RBI, 1436 hits, 744 runs, 289 doubles, .362 on-base %

Holliday had a top two MVP finish, and led the NL in four categories during his breakout 2007 season in Colorado.

Holliday had a top two MVP finish, and led the NL in four categories during his breakout 2007 season in Colorado.

Where he Stands: His resume is a complicated one, because it screams above average for his era, but then it’s much grounded at the same time. Perhaps Holliday is the ultimate “really, really good” player. He’s been an All-Star for more than half of his career, and factored into a few MVP races as well. Yet, at the same time, he’s always been A factor, over being THE factor. He’s been best being able to be the complimentary hammer over the focus of a team’s success. And while there is nothing wrong with that, it is usually a bit tougher on those guys to pull themselves apart from the pack.

Yet what is on his side is winning. He’s consistently been a member of competitive teams due in part to his presence. The Cardinals and Rockies have averaged 86.5 wins per season with Holliday in the fold, who has sported an average of 5.2 Wins Above Replacement over that time. This impact has been particularly evident in the teams he has been a member of who have made the postseason, whom only won their divisions by a half game in 2007 (21 of 22 to finish season), 7 ½ in 2009(he joined at the trade deadline), 1 game in 2011 (won Wild Card on last day of the season) and 2 games (won Wild Card play in) in 2012. All things considered, he has made a steady impact for teams that have had to fight to just make the postseason.

But individually considered there’s more ground to cover. He should top 2,000 hits in about 2.5 years, which would keep him well short of the magic number range. He has another three guaranteed seasons on his deal, which would likely have him in the range of just above 2,100 hits, and if he plays through a few more seasons, about 2,300 hits. In regards to the HOF, that’s borderline and the fact he’ll be below 400 home runs or so for a player of his type is a tough sell as well.

So when the question is asked regarding Matt Holliday, and his likelihood of being IN, OUT or IN-BETWEEN Cooperstown, he’s OUT, but still an upper tier very, very good career…quietly.

 

For more on the now with both Holliday and his St. Louis Cardinals, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

ROCKIES_VS_LA_04_06_hc

The debate on the validity of numbers made by those that spend the majority of their seasons as members of the Colorado Rockies is nothing new. Ever since the club was founded and quickly became a fountain of youth for veteran bats that had long seen their better days elsewhere, as well as a springboard for borderline hitters elsewhere, the environment has been under dispute. However, until now, there had never been a player who had staked his entire career in friendly, Humidor regulated environment of the Rockies come up for inspection for the Hall of Fame until Todd Helton. And now, in his final season, the greatest Rockie of all-time will have his list of achievements taken not only under the microscope, but also stretched to be put in context.

Helton has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball over the past 17 years. A career Rockie, he is the owner of eight major career records in offense friendly book for the club. Yet, if there is an element in baseball that is issued a more blanketed line of questioning than PEDs, it’s numbers produced with 81 games spent in Coors Field a year. How will this effect Helton when it’s time for him to be placed on the ballot for Cooperstown? Will he be held to an even keel with others of his era and position? Or will he instead be under review for being in the right place, most of the time? Here’s his case, coming and going.

The Numbers (Thru July 1st): .318 avg, 360 home runs, 1372 RBI, 2461 hits, 576 doubles, 1374 runs scored, .416 on-base percentage, .542 slugging percentage

The Case For: Helton is one the best hitters of the 2000’s by far. He is the only player in MLB history to have 100+ extra base hits in consecutive seasons, and is tenth all-time in on-base percentage. After coming up during the 1997 season, he quickly became one of the most consistent performers at the plate of any era, hitting over .300 for ten consecutive seasons and only once under .315. His masterpiece season was in 2000, when he won his sole batting title, with a .372 average and 147 RBI, made on 216 hits, including 42 home runs and 59 doubles. While power was never absent from his game (six seasons of 30 or more home runs, two over 40), his true calling card was the double. His steady, level swing made him a terror in the gaps, and he has 10 consecutive seasons with at least 35 doubles, making him the only player in MLB history to achieve this as well. His career total is good for 20th best all-time. A winner of four consecutive Silver Slugger awards, his patient approach often forced pitchers to deliver to him; he has only has one season of greater than 100 strikeouts and eight straight years of totaling more walks than K’s, with seven seasons where he did not total more than 70 strikeouts.

He is also far from a one-dimensional player, as in his prime he was one of the best defensive infielders in baseball. He is a winner of three Gold Glove awards, and was an asset as a defensive stopper in an offensively inclined ballpark. He’s also the definition of a company man, and is the third most tenured active player to spend his career with one club.

The Case Against: This is where the situation gets sticky for Helton, and where all of those prestigious accomplishments begin to be diluted for some. Coors Field has produced a record amount of offense in its time, like no other field before or since it. The lighter atmosphere is kinder to bats, and it is a pretty solid advantage to have on your side for half a season, as it has hosted several record-setting seasons for home runs. And while regulation of the baseballs used in Coors (via a humidor to regulate the density of the ball) have changed things some, he has still benefitted from a thin air home half of his career games. This can aid the line drive ball, which is his greatest tool, and it slightly has.

In his career, he is a .347 hitter at home, compared to .289 on the road, and has 142 more extra base hits at home as well. Perhaps the greatest difference in splits is the impact it has on his home versus road on-base + slugging percentage (OPS). At Coors, his total is an incredible 1.052, which when placed on an even keel with the greatest totals of all-time, would sit at the fourth best of all-time, right in-between Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds. That is hallowed ground in baseball heaven, and is quickly brought back to mortality by his road OPS of .861, which would be good for 133nd of all-time, yet right between Darryl Strawberry (a upper-tier Hall of Very Good member) and Jesse Burkett (an actual Hall of Famer) all-time.

Along with Lou Gehrig and Bill Terry, Helton is one of three first basemen ever to hit at least .315 for eight consecutive years.

Along with Lou Gehrig and Bill Terry, Helton is one of three first basemen ever to hit at least .315 for eight consecutive years.

Similar Players (through age 39)

  1. Larry Walker (.313 avg, 383 home runs, 1311 RBI, 2160 hits, 1355 runs, 471 doubles)
  2. Frank Thomas (.301 avg, 521 home runs, 1667 RBI, 2468 Hits, 1494 runs, 495 doubles)
  3. Chipper Jones (.303 avg, 468 home runs, 1623 RBI, 2726 hits, 1619 runs, 549 doubles)

Cooperstown Likelihood: Helton’s career is a study in differences, but not extremes. He had a five year run from 2000-2004 that was as productive as anybody has ever had. Some of it was encouraged by location, but a lot of it was him being a great hitter as well. In many cases, the “yeah, but” approach has handicapped him from getting many of the individual awards that could he for the taking. Helton has flown below the radar for much of his career; in part due to being in a sort of media nowhere land in Colorado, but also not being a highlight player. Yet he has not only been one of the most productive, bad team players of all-time, he has also been one of the most consistently above-average to quietly great players of any era as well. Despite averaging posting an average year of .336, 30 home runs, 108 RBI and 188 hits from 2000 to 2007, he never finished higher than fifth in any MVP vote and is only a five-time All-Star in his career. As far as magic numbers, injuries curbed his chance at 400 home runs (which would qualify well for a line drive hitter of his variety), as well as 3,000 hits (which would be a clincher in his case).

Injuries curbed his later years, starting at about 34 years old, which also ended his chance at big accumulation marks. He went from averaging 154 games a season his first ten years, to only playing in better than 124 once in his last six years. Regardless, the OPS difference once again paints the easiest picture of understanding Helton’s credibility. He is neither the 4th best all-time that he has been at Coors, nor is he the 133nd all-time that he was on the road. The truth is found in the middle, which would be just about at 65th all-time. That’s where you would find Bill Terry, the star manager and first baseman of the 1920s/30’s New York Giants, as well as a likewise undervalued contributor in the big picture at the position.

In the end, Helton is among the very best hitters of his era, and has made a quietly historic impact in his career. While there could be some apprehension in the vote results covering him, in the same fashion that former teammate Larry Walker experienced in his initial appearance on the ballot, the truth should eventually set him free.

So when the question is asked if Todd Helton is in, out or in-between Hall of Fame status, the answer should be IN…even if it takes the clouds clearing up some to realize it.

For more on the season as it develops in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Roy+Halladay+Sitting

For much of the decade of the 2000’s, the question about who was the best pitcher in baseball started at number two. Mostly because the dominance of Roy Halladay made it so simple to decide on who was at the top of the list. Whether it was during his run of triumph in-spite of some less than desirable clubs in Toronto, or his turn of fortune (and perfection) in Philadelphia, Doc Halladay has stood for the pinnacle of both competition and resilient results for his career.

Yet, as he has turned into his twilight of his career, where does this place him among the greats that have ever toed the mound? Pitching more so than any other position is guided by the standard set by magic numbers and an ever-changing chance to reach the position’s definitive quality marker: wins. Despite this, Halladay has dominated his era at a quality as good as any hurler has, but has it been great enough, for long enough, for him to sit among the immortals when his time is up? Let’s have a look.

The Numbers (through June 12)—Record: 201-104 (.659 win %), 3.37 ERA, 2101 strikeouts, 2721.2 innings pitched, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts

1. The Case For: At his peak, he was the perfect example of the exception rule. He excelled regardless of surroundings as well as any pitcher in baseball for the bulk of his career. From 2002 to 2009, he pitched for only one team that finished any better than third place in the American League East. However, during this time, he won at least 16 games in six seasons, including 19 in ’02, 22 in ’03 and 20 again in ’08. In those respective seasons, he won 24, 25 and 23 percent of all Blue Jay games. He posted a winning percentage of at least 75% in four seasons, and after turning 25 in ’02, he posted only one season with a winning percentage under 63% for the next ten years. That goes beyond efficiency; that crosses into dominance.

And working in bulk is another of Halladay’s great assets. He’s almost a man out of time in that regard, as in a time where less innings are being pitched by starters and instead being shared by increasingly specialized staffs; Halladay is pitching like it’s the 1960’s still. From 2007-2011, he led the American and National Leagues (respectively) in complete games, totaling 42 across that span. He also led the AL in shutouts from 2008-10, totaling 10. For his career, he has led a league in complete games seven times, shutouts four times, and innings pitched four times as well. He’s a warhorse.

He’s perhaps the perfect blend of strikeout and control pitcher. He throws hard, yet with consistent control, which allows him to work quickly and control the pace of games, thus his ability to work high innings totals. In 2010 with the Phillies, he became the first pitcher since 1923 to top 250 innings, but walk 30 or less batters. From 2006 to 2011, he only walked more than 40 batters once, while pitching at least 220 innings in each season.

2. The Case Against: The case against Halladay could be that he’s far away from being a member of the 300 win club, or even the 250 win club. While his 201 wins are the second most actively of any pitcher all-time, it ranks him only 107th all-time. While there have been Hall of Famers that have won less, namely Dizzy Dean and Dazzy Vance, of those inducted in the last 30 years, only Don Drysdale’s 209 have been within the same range as Halladay’s total.

Part of this is due to the poor performing Blue Jay clubs he played for, but also due in part to the bookends of his career. Over his first three full seasons, his record was 17-17 and his ERA 5.08. Within the past two seasons, injuries have sidelined him twice and greatly curbed his impact as well. Since the beginning of 2012, he has a 13-12 record and 5.24 ERA. The wins standard is important, and he’s short there, as well as he has only pitched in two playoff series in his career, with his first coming at age 34.

Halladay has the highest career winning percentage of any active pitcher and is in the Top 20 all-time.

Halladay has the highest active career winning percentage and is Top 20 all-time. His percentage is fifth best ever of any pitcher to throw at least 15 seasons.

3. Similar Players (thru age 35):

– Mike Mussina: 270-153 record, 3.68 ERA, .638 win%, 2813 strikeouts, 3562.2 innings pitched

– Tim Hudson: 201-110 record, 3.45 ERA, .646 win%, 1862 strikeouts, 2766 innings pitched

– Dwight Gooden: 194-112 record, 3.51 ERA, .634 win%, 2293 strikeouts, 2800.2 innings pitched

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (thru age 36): Halladay is an interesting case when it comes to Cooperstown profile. Is he one of the greatest of his era? Unquestionably. Yet, has he had the sustained dominance of a no-doubt Hall of Famer? The answer is both yes and no. Nothing tells the story of this better than three players that compare most favorably to him. Each have had three very different careers, and would make no sense in being tied to each other without Halladay being the common denominator. He was regularly above average to excellent in the same style as Mussina, although for not as consecutively long as Moose was. He had an undeniably dominant era in the late 2000’s in a similar fashion to what Gooden did in the mid-80’s. And finally, he had two peaks to his career, but not a long consecutive run, in the same fashion that Hudson did.

In the end, what puts Halladay over is just how great his peak was. He was a Cy Young winner in both leagues, eight seasons apart. At his most transcendent, he threw both a Perfect Game and a No-Hitter in the same season, his first in the National League. And although the opportunities were delayed, two of his five October games were classic efforts, including the no-hitter coming in his first postseason appearance, and his 1-0 battle with best friend and postseason great Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the NLDS in 2011.

Something can also be said for excellence in the face of adversity. He took the ball and made the Blue Jays favorites at least once every fifth day for 12 years. He is one of the great competitors of all-time, and raised the levels of the players around him as well in a way that even few great players have. He has been responsible for 65.5 Wins Above Replacement level in his career, including six seasons of better than 5 in Toronto, and an astonishing 16.2 in his two Philly seasons combined. And while he’ll probably never return to the full health that enabled him accomplish these feats again, what he’s accomplished thus far has been exceptional to a level that may not be clear when looking at paper years from now, but when viewed in time, was quite often unmatchable.

So to that extent, while the deed may be nearly done for the 36-year-old righty, if the question is asked today if Roy Halladay is in, out or in-between being a Hall of Famer, the answer has to be he is IN. With as strong of a quality over quantity pull as there can be.

For more on the push to the Hall in the day-to-day world of baseball, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan